Primary Arms

Movie Review From A "Gun" Perspective - Civil War

I can't hire Jesse Plemons, so this will have to do.

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve done a movie review, but after much encouragement from outside sources, I decided to go ahead and dissect another film from the perspective of a firearms autist. This time around, I picked the somewhat-controversial Alex Garland dystopian thriller, Civil War.

The run up to the film had the Second Amendment Radical community abuzz. The trailer, though scant on details at the time, featured a fair amount of firearms-centric action, as well as some iconography we’re all familiar with in the scene, such as Hawaiian-shirt clad fighters, meme-ish looking characters, and hints towards some unidentified armed combat in progressive “havens” such as New York City.

Of course since both director Garland and A24, the studio responsible for bringing this piece to life, are both part of the Hollywood machine, us in the community weren’t expecting a piece sympathetic to the side of freedom and fun…

I missed out on the chance to catch this piece on the big screen (FYI - as a big screen piece this probably has more impact visually and sonically) but I did manage to eke out some time to watch this on the old LG flat panel cranking away in the rumpus room. However, this did make the reviewing of the film a bit easier. I figured for something a little different, it’d be worth the time.

Let’s be fair, Hollywood often gets firearms completely wrong. In the spirit of fun though, we’ll fisk the plot and watchability of Civil War, and then take a dive on the “gun angle…”

Sidebar: I’ll get to the bumpstock thing and Chevron deference going away soon…

Civil War Cinematically

Cutting his chops as a writer, Garland has penned some decent films in the past, including 28 Days Later, and Sunshine. Both films in a broad stroke were apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic in nature, which seems to be one of Garland’s favorite subject matters. I’ll gladly cop to enjoying both, especially Sunshine, with it’s Underworld soundtrack. Since then, Garland has stepped it up a bit career-wise, and has moved into directing, with Ex Machina and Men under his belt, to name a few. I’ll admit that I have yet to see any piece that he has directed, so my expectations of his cinematic were a complete blank.

As a reference, Civil War depicts the trials and tribulations of war journalists in a near-future United States under the rule of an unnamed 3-term President, where the somewhat-possible scenario of secessionism has taken hold, with the nation fracturing into four distinct factions. Since I know you’re just itching to find out who the belligerents are, they are as follows:

  • The Loyalist States: Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. These states are loyal to the federal government in Washington DC.

  • The New People’s Army: Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota. Sounds communist in a way (Moura’s character refers to “Portland Maoists”) but we’ll get to my theory on Garland’s reasons in a moment.

  • The Florida Alliance: Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. Florida Man and friends.

  • The Western Forces: Texas and California. What?

Some rather strange bedfellows, to be sure. My guess based on criticism of the film and some allusions from people involved is that Garland actually wished to focus more on the brutality of domestic conflict, and the story of the journalist main characters. Since he’s English, and knows little about the real divisions in this nation, I figure he wanted to stay away from overtly irritating any “side”, since films cost money to make and he needs to make that money back. Hence the belligerents being unlikely alliances, like Texas and California somehow teaming up to take on the Feds. Even the communist-sounding New People’s Army is unlikely, as you would never see Idaho and Montana join up with Oregon for much of anything, much less a war.

But let’s be honest here, the cast of Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Nick Offerman, as well as A24 being in Manhattan do invariably push the film to a left perspective almost by default, and it does pop up in subtle ways.

The film starts off with a rather innocent-seeming sequence where veteran war photographer Lee Smith (Dunst) is in her New York City hotel room watching a one-way speech by the President (Offerman) declaring near-victory by the United States (Loyalist) forces against everyone else. Moments after the speech concludes, a building explodes nearby, and Smith, apparently jaded beyond jaded, just shrugs it off. The implication being of course that the government is embellishing things…well duh!

Through various machinations, Smith ends up in the company of Joel (Moura), a Reuters journalist from Florida, Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson of Dune fame), a veteran mainstream media journalist, and Jessie Cullen (Cailee Spaeny), an aspiring photographer still rocking film in a Nikon FM2. Their mission, as they have chosen to accept it, is to get to Washington DC to interview the President of the United States, who has been a notorious recluse since the start of hostilities.

From this point out, the film plays out as sort of a road-trip-with-war-crimes aesthetic, with the characters developing along rather predictable arcs as the journey to Washington DC progresses on. Smith, ever jaded, takes Jessie under her wing at the urging of Sammy, her mentor. Joel continues drinking and manages to evade hangovers and keep his eyes on the prize. Jessie, rightfully shocked by the various firefights and outbursts of gore, gets desensitized to the whole thing, climaxing in the now-famous “What kind of American are you?” scene starring Dunst’s real-life husband, Jesse Plemons, who is depicted as a stereotypical “ultranationalist”.

Yes, I’m being a little vague here since the meat of this is about the firearms usage, and not the movie itself, haha.

From a pure visual perspective, the film itself is a decent effort. Filmed on Sony VENICE rigs, DJI Ronin 4D-6K stabilized cameras, and Sony A7S III mirrorless still/video cameras, the essence of the film is definitely done in post. Slightly desaturated colors, save for the “peaceful town” scene about halfway through, and the requisite “grit” laid on make happen. Not bad, since it’s the story and not the overuse of lurid colors that drive this. Along those lines the CG is so-so at best, with the helicopters, distant tracer fire, and fighter jet scenes looking “rendered”. To be fair Garland got this made for $50 million, which isn’t much for a first-run film these days.

Some nuances are nice, for example in the intro sequence during a riot in New York City, a bomb goes off and everyone who survives is deaf and dazed. Yeah, a bomb will do that. Also worth noting is that services people take for granted are depicted as being spotty or offline. Yes, the people who maintain things tend to vanish when there’s a war afoot. You won’t get cell signal if the tower has been blown up and the guys who rigged it up aren’t going to come back for awhile, if at all. Also spot a lot of people walking and using bicycles. Gas is expensive and most service stations won’t accept US Dollars.

However, some nuances are bad. While the bomb blast temporarily deafened Smith and Jessie, they and everyone else seemed to be unfazed by unsuppressed gunfire both indoors and out. A citizen irregular mag dumps in a room, and people carry on in their inside voices after, that sort of thing. An Apache lets loose and the crew is pretty much using their “Where is my coffee?” voice after.

And speaking of nuance spoiler alert, the million dollar question a lot of us have is, who the heck the President is supposed to be?

Yes, it’s supposed to be Donald Trump or someone in that orbit. There’s three dead giveaways. In one scene, our intrepid journo heroes are discussing what to ask the President if and when they meet him, and one suggests asking him why he disbanded the FBI. The second dead giveaway is that a secondary character is aghast that our journalistic protagonists want to go to Washignton DC, since the President apparently has his people shoot journalists on sight. Thirdly, the President sports a red tie. It’s supposed to be Trump. Remember, this is a mainstream Hollywood piece, not a crowdfunded romp from those outside of the studio system. Of course they’re going to blame Trump. To his credit, Garland isn’t hideously obvious about it, and due to the way-fanciful factions mentioned above, the President could have been depicted as being from the other side of the aisle, or no side at all, and it wouldn’t have affected the story.

I’d say Civil War is about 2.5 out of 5. Not as horrible as I imagined, but with some tweaks and streamlining, it could have been better.

OK, with the standard movie review bit out of the way, I suppose we should get to the important part - the guns!

Civil War The Movie From “The Gun Perspective”

OK, now to dive into the real reason you are here - the gun stuff! Usual warning, there’ll be spoilers below, so if you haven’t seen the film and have an interest in seeing it, you can tune out now if you want. I won’t be offended. Now, if for some strange reason, Google’s wildly-prejudiced algorithm picks this up - this is a gun blog, we talk about guns.

As we’re well aware, Hollywood almost never gets guns right. Usually it’s an agenda, one they are proud of, but sometimes it’s about budget, time constraints, and the story.

So, like with most films, if you’re a Second Amendment Radical and armed citizen, you’ll have to check your education and sensibilities at the door with regards to the use of firearms in Alex Garland’s Civil War.

Of course, this is in random order.

Trigger Discipline - Surprisingly Good!

If you're taking prisoners while armed, keep that finger outside the trigger guard.

Right out of the gate, one thing I noticed was that most of the armed characters were exercising decent trigger discipline. Even today, too many films have armed heroes and villains running around with their booger hook on the bang switch. A good armorer should correct that, but my wager is that ego would get in the way. In the wake of the Baldwin incident, my theory is also that the armorer on set is more respected than ever. Armorer Mario Tejeda clearly kept his actors and firearms in a good safe (for the movies anyways) condition. Whether it’s the Boogaloo rebels running around that college campus, or Western Forces soldiers making their final push into DC, everyone is basically on point trigger-wise. Even a Secret Service agent character mid-dive keeps it real. Tip of the hat and all.

Stunting with that MP5K.

The Firearms Have Road Rash And Are Generally Beat

There are no safe queens in the Upside Down.

In the context of the story, the Civil War has been going on for a few years at that point. Since the film takes place in the United States, firearms are a-plenty, and people are putting them to use. Like any wear item, guns pick up various dings and dongs as they go along in life. In Civil War, the depiction of this is rather spot-on. Whether it’s an insurgent’s beat-up shorty AR, or even a Secret Service agent’s MP5, the guns have some miles on them. Too many films out there tend to use weapons that look fresh out of the box. While from an OCD cinema standpoint this may make sense, if you are looking for realism, especially in a wartime setting or with government-issued guns (which are usually neglected), wear and tear is pretty evident. Those pieces got some miles on them.

Could Have Expected More Obvious NFA Items

Not gonna lie, this part had a great bit of music...

Especially with one of the factions being the Florida Alliance, which is Florida Man and the South, I was kind of expecting to see more NFA-type items in play during the film. While SBRs were evident, since there’s really no Feds or ATF around to hassle the armed parties over barrel length, I was sort of expecting to see more suppressed weapons, as well as more select-fire in citizen hands.

Again, in the context of the movie, the war has been on for a bit, which means there has been plenty of time for normally-restricted items to circulate freely, and in the case of full-auto, a lot of battlefield pickups to be had. Now to be fair, the amount of semi-automatic ARs versus say M4s and M16s is probably like 100:1, but I was expecting more full-auto fun coming from the citizen side. Though one member of the Boogaloo crew did have an M240 mounted technical-style in a Ford pickup.

Additionally, along those lines, you would expect to see some homemade and 3D-printed guns in regular use.

There’s Suspension Of Disbelief And Then There’s “Oh, Come On!”

You'd be deaf, singed, and pretty disoriented...

OK, in almost every Hollywood cinematic or television production, gunfire being as loud as it normally would be is a fact conveniently forgotten. The protagonist draws his pistol, blasts an entire magazine of 9mm down a hallway at the Big Bad, and they trade insults rather clearly 5 seconds after. Or a team clears a building with their rifles, drops a few scofflaws, and they’re chatting about the Panthers season opener while waiting for the meat wagon to show up.

Now, this is a function of course of the way guns are operated in the context of movies. Typically movie firearms are loaded with blank ammunition, as most of us know. The ammo itself is usually loaded with only enough gunpowder to cycle the action and generate a small flash for effect. The sound is usually dubbed over later and maybe the flash is enhanced. In some cases the blanks are loaded with powder that flashes like crazy. Of course the actors are equipped with flesh-toned earplugs just in case.

Now, in my opinion, where it gets really hard to suspend disbelief is during the White House invasion scene at the end. Western Forces soldiers and Secret Service agents alike do full-auto mag dumps down corridors, and even throw explosives around. And no one seems to be rattled too much by it. Conversations and taunts happen unabated. I would have written in some sort of “stunned” sequence, at least.

Name Checks!

Someday New York City residents will be able to freely own one of these...

One thing I will definitely give Garland, and more appropriately, armorer Mario Tejeda credit for is the variety of brands in the Civil War universe. It’s a good reflection of the way an unfortunate scenario such as a domestic conflict would be. There’d be little to no consistency amongst most forces, especially irregulars and citizen militias. Variety abounds. I spotted:

  • Aero Precision
  • Nightforce
  • LaRue
  • Daniel Defense
  • Noveske
  • Vickers Sling
  • Magpul
  • EOTech
  • LWRC
  • Colt
  • Heckler & Koch
  • Surefire
  • Aimpoint
  • SIG
  • B5
  • Bushmaster
  • Trijicon

Spot the DD stock, it's pretty distinct...


A technical foul by What Kind Of An American Are You Jesse Plemons.

Anyone striking this pose would have appropriate trigger discipline, haha...

Don’t shoot your pal in the butt.

The dollar is useless in the CW universe so there's no million-dollar wound...

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